Student Spotlight: Nabil Khazzaka on His Unique, Theatrical Electronic Pop Music – Soundfly

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Student Spotlight: Nabil Khazzaka on His Unique, Theatrical Electronic Pop Music

Every now and then some artist comes onto your radar who is absolutely, truly, one of a kind. You kind of have to stop everything and appreciate the experience when that happens, and luckily I work for an online music platform with a community of thousands of musicians, so these kinds of experiences tend to fall into my lap unexpectedly.

One such experience happened a few years ago with Nabil Khazzaka. He posted his brilliant, totally unorthodox, futurescape musical film version of the traditional Irish love song, “The Moorlough Shore,” and it floored me (he’s Belgian!). I had never, and still haven’t ever seen or heard anything like it.

If you just took Nabil Khazzaka’s sheer vocal abilities, his keyboard prowess, and his production skills, you’d have a fantastic, contemporary musician and songwriter right there. Add to it his wholly unique perspective on songwriting, and an aesthetic predilection for the dramatic storytelling dynamics that shape both ABBA’s music as well as James Bond thrillers into the mix and you’ve got something the world quite simply isn’t ready for.

Enter Khazzaka’s brand new EP, The Man With the Golden Tie, and within 30 seconds you’ll feel like you’ve landed right smack in the middle of a musical theatre production of a high-risk car chase. His is a form of pop music that feels as fun as it does dangerous, one in which every song’s protagonist has a secret weapon in a hidden holster.

Take a listen to The Man With the Golden Tie here:

Q: You recently released your latest EP, The Man With the Golden Tie. Congrats! I love listening to your music because the music itself, as well as your vocal delivery and lyrics are always aiming for maximum DRAMA! Haha, is that intentional?

A: Glad you like the music, yes, it is intentional. I’ve always liked music that is programmatic and that uses high contrasts, dramatic elements and “role playing.” Therefore, I like musicals and music for commercials, video game music, and soundtracks. That’s also why my favorite artists are ABBA, Eurythmics, Kate Bush and Björk.

I’m a fan of storytelling too. That probably explains my love for traditional songs. My music and visuals have always contained all of the above but with this record, I wanted to go all the way.

On that note, the songs on The Man With the Golden Tie seem to be part of a “cycle,” and come from a similar realm, but they tell a few different stories. Are they part of the same narrative somehow? In other words, what connects these pieces for you?

There are two main themes on the EP: “James Bond” (as in, a kind of secret agent narrative) and “misbehaving in the workplace,” which I linked to one another.

“…Meanwhile, I had been analyzing James Bond soundtracks for a while and I had a couple of vague ideas…So I decided to make a mini soundtrack with typical James Bond features.”

Yeah okay that makes sense; it struck me that “German Company Car Chase” and “Golden Boy” are pretty much the same song, one being instrumental and the other containing lyrics; it’s almost as if they’re variations on a score theme. 

I actually wrote “Golden Boy” several years ago. It had a totally different tune then. The lyrics made fun of ambitious young professionals, but I wasn’t too happy with it and reckoned that a James Bond flavored tune would be more appropriate. So, I completely rewrote the song. Meanwhile, I had been analyzing James Bond soundtracks for a while and I had a couple of vague ideas for more tracks. So I decided to make a mini soundtrack with typical James Bond features — hence, the variations of the same thematic material.

Although I had a concept in mind, it all evolved quite organically. For instance, I was checking a mix of “Golden Boy” while driving my car. It then struck me that it sounds like a car chase theme. So I created an instrumental version of the track. “The Shark” and “I Am “The Shark” were two different songs. To link them, I decided to start and end “I Am The Shark” with the “The Shark’s” theme.

What are your favorite moments of this EP and why do they stand out for you?

My favorite track is “The Shark.” I think it checks all the boxes. The synthesizers sound very underwater, which was part of the concept from the beginning, and the build-up is great. You can really feel that shark approaching and attacking!

To take it back to your process, what comes first for you when songwriting, the lyrics, the chords and melody, or rhythms and production?

Most of the time, it is the chords and melody that come to me first. But I’ve created songs in all kind of ways like starting from melody and parts of the lyrics, melody alone and poems.

You’re a pretty active member of the Soundfly community — what originally brought you here?

It was via Ethan Hein’s blog. At the time, I got interested in music theory and so I read his articles regularly. One day he announced that he was going to do a course at Soundfly. So I started reading Flypaper and I checking the free courses. The rest is history, ha!

You recently did a Soundfly mentorship session with one of our audio engineering mentors, Andrea De Carlo. What was the goal of that session and how did Andrea help you achieve it?

I wanted to make better mixes to have more control of my music. In the past, I often felt frustrated because most professionals I worked with did not understand the vision I had in my mind. I had a very limited knowledge of EQ, compression, limiting, effects, etc. So, a better understanding would be great for for myself, and also when communicating with others.

Andrea created a tailored Learning Plan starting with the basics and building up from there. The instructions he provided in his sessions were very clear. He was always available to answer my questions and give constructive feedback.

+ Learn about Soundfly’s goal-oriented custom mentorship program here, and fill out a quick form if you’d like to get paired with a mentor to improve your skills!

After finishing your session with Andrea, how have you put your learning to use in your practice?

The most important thing is that I’m more confident when I do my mixes. I must admit: when I started the course, I was a bit skeptical. Like a lot of people, I’m used to having the teacher right next to me in case I get stuck. The idea to experiment on my own was daunting. Hindsight, I think that is what actually strengthened me!

What’s your favorite piece of gear or instrument to use and why?

I don’t have one right now, but I do like how the TB-303 sounds. So that could be a “future favorite piece.”

What’s coming up next for you this year or next?

I’ll do some promotion of The Man With the Golden Tie. Meanwhile, I’ll be writing and producing new songs — alone and with collaborators. Stay tuned!

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Jeremy Young

Jeremy is a Montreal-based musician, sound artist and improviser who loves giving advice to emerging artists on how to make their tours more effective. He writes, records and performs electroacoustic "concrète" music for tape, oscillators and amplified objects and surfaces, as well as solo guitar. He has performed and released material throughout Europe and the UK, Asia, the US and Canada, mostly with his trio Sontag Shogun.